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Can Ernst Tanner bring the next Roberto Firmino to the Union? He found the Liverpool star.

Ernst Tanner has a history of finding players who've become stars in world soccer. The Union want that to happen here.

Philadelphia Union owner Jay Sugarman (left) with new sporting director Ernst Tanner at an introductory press conference at Talen Energy Stadium.
Philadelphia Union owner Jay Sugarman (left) with new sporting director Ernst Tanner at an introductory press conference at Talen Energy Stadium.Read moreJonathan Tannenwald/Staff

There was never any doubt that the Union wanted their new sporting director to continue the club's admirable track record of investing in its youth academy, and developing players from it who can play in MLS.

But as Ernst Tanner was introduced on Thursday, there was an additional signal: that the Union want better foreign signings too, and are ready to back up that desire with real resources.

Union owner Jay Sugarman described Tanner, a 51-year-old German, as "someone who has successfully executed a development-driven model: someone who can ID talent, recruit talent, can help develop that talent, and then has a successful track record in the transfer market of having other clubs recognize that talent."

There is plenty of proof. Just ask English powerhouse Liverpool. Tanner brought Brazilian World Cup star Roberto Firmino to German club Hoffenheim in 2011, and in 2015 Liverpool paid $37 million for him. Tanner brought Naby Keita to Austria's Red Bull Salzburg in 2014, sold him to German sister club RB Leipzig for $21.5 million in 2016, and this summer Liverpool paid $62 million for him.

Those kinds of deals are the essence of how global soccer works these days. The Union want to get in that game. They want to win trophies too, of course, and want Tanner to build a team that can do so; and they want the team's core to come from the Wayne-based academy. But Sugarman admitted he knows more needs to be done to bring in the kinds of players who will truly take the Union to the next level.

Sugarman said that in the search process, he and academy chief Richie Graham wanted "to really be thoughtful about where the Union is right now and how it's going to get to that next step — both internally by developing, but also in the transfer market, making sure we acquire players who are going to make us better."

READ MORE: Ernst Tanner, Red Bull Salzburg academy director, named new Union sporting director

Tanner, whose contract runs through 2021, said he believes "in a good club, an academy is like a backbone" and "mandatory to be successful." He's also ready to go shopping.

"There are, inside this country, lots of opportunities, as well as there are in smaller countries in Europe, lots of opportunities, and I don't think that there's nothing in South America," he said with a classic touch of German understatement. "I have quite close connections to Colombia, for instance, good connections in Brazil and to Argentina. It's not necessarily that you have to spend millions for finding good talent, but it's necessary, of course, to develop it."